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Jones v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 14, 2017


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/17/2015





         EN BANC.

          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Brett Jones previously was convicted for the murder of his grandfather and sentenced to life imprisonment. Following the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), the circuit court held a hearing to determine whether Jones, who was fifteen years old when he killed his grandfather, was entitled to parole eligibility under Miller. Following that hearing, the circuit court found that Jones was not entitled to relief under Miller. Jones appeals the circuit court's ruling and alleges that his sentence is unconstitutional and that the circuit judge did not comply with the requirements of Miller and related case law. We find no error and affirm.


         ¶2. This Court's prior opinion affirming Jones's conviction and sentence on direct appeal discussed the facts of the murder:

During August of 2004, Jones was living with his paternal grandparents, Bertis Jones and Madge Jones. Jones's girlfriend, Michelle Austin, had run away from home in the first week of August 2004. Austin was staying mostly at Jones's grandparents' home, as well as at an abandoned fish restaurant near the home. On August 9, 2004, Bertis Jones discovered Austin in Jones's bedroom and told her to get out of his house. Austin then ran to the fish restaurant. . . . Jones and his cousin, Jacob, later came and told her that Jones was "in big trouble" with his grandfather. Austin testified that she asked Jones, "What are you going to do? Kill him?" Austin testified that Jones did not respond to this question. Austin also testified that Jones "said that he was going to hurt his granddaddy."
Jones testified that at about 4 p.m., he went into the kitchen to make a sandwich, and he and the victim got into an argument. Jones "sassed" him, at which point the argument escalated. Jones testified that his grandfather got in his face, pointing and yelling at him. He testified that his grandfather had never done that before. He testified that his grandfather then pushed him, that he pushed him back, and his grandfather then swung at him. Jones testified that he had a steak knife in his hand from making a sandwich, and because he "didn't have anywhere to go between the corner and him, " he "threw the knife forward, " stabbing his grandfather. He testified that his grandfather backed up, looked at the wound, and came at Jones again. Jones again stabbed him and tried to get past his grandfather. Jones testified that his grandfather grabbed him, they fought some more, and Jones then grabbed a filet knife. He stabbed his grandfather with this knife. . . .
. . . .
[Jones claimed that he tried to save his grandfather by administering CPR but that his grandfather stopped breathing.] Jones then pulled the body into the laundry room and shut the door. Jones used a water hose to try and clean the blood off of his arms, and then threw his shirt in the garbage under the sink. He then attempted to cover up the blood spots in the carport by pulling his grandfather's car over them. Jones testified that he walked around the house and saw Robert "Frisco" Ruffner; at this point, Jones was covered in blood.
Ruffner, who was living with and doing yard work for Thomas Lacastro, a neighbor at the time, testified that he had "heard an old man, you know, like holler out he was in pain, " and about two or three minutes later, he saw Jones walking toward him covered in blood. Ruffner testified that Jones was carrying a knife, trembling and saying, "Kill, kill." Ruffner then ran into the house and called 911.
Thomas Lacastro arrived while Ruffner was on the phone with the police, and Ruffner related to Lacastro what he had seen. Ruffner was hysterical at the time, and Lacastro did not, at first, believe him. Ruffner told Lacastro that Jones had killed his grandfather. Lacastro then saw Jones in the bushes and asked him to come over to his house. Lacastro testified that Jones was pale and "had some blood on him." Lacastro testified that he asked Jones, "Where's your grandfather?" Jones answered, "He's gone, " and Lacastro responded, "No, he's not gone. His car is right there, Brett." Jones again tried to say that his grandfather had left, but Lacastro told him, "Brett, you're lying. You need to get out of my yard." At some point during the conversation, Jones told Lacastro that the blood was fake and that "it's a joke." Lacastro responded, "It's not a joke, son. This is not a joke. This is real."
[Jones and Austin then fled on foot.] Lacastro told Jones before he left that he had called the police. After Jones and [Austin] left, Lacastro went over to the bushes where they had been "milling around" and saw an oil pan covered in blood. He then went into the carport and saw more blood, but did not go any farther.
. . . .
Jones and Austin gave the officers false names [when they were apprehended that night]. Officer Gary Turner of Nettleton began a pat-down of Jones and found a pocketknife in his left pocket. Officer Turner asked whether it was the knife Jones "did it with, " to which Jones responded, "No, I already got rid of it."
When Investigator Steve White went to investigate the home of Bertis Jones, he found Bertis Jones's body concealed in a utility room in the back of the carport. He found that someone had apparently used a car, an oil pan and a mat to conceal puddles of blood. Investigator White also found a bloodstained T-shirt in the carport, as well as more bloodstained clothing in the kitchen trash can. Officers also found a filet knife in the kitchen sink and a bent steak knife with blood on the tip of it. There were blood spatters on the walls.
There were a total of eight stab wounds to the body of Bertis Jones. There were also abrasions consistent with the body's having been dragged, and cuts on the hand classified as "defensive posturing injuries." The cause of death was a stab wound to the chest.
Jones was convicted of murder in the Circuit Court of Lee County and sentenced to life imprisonment . . . .

Jones v. State, 938 So.2d 312, 313-15 (¶¶2-11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006) ("Jones I").

         ¶3. By statute, Jones's conviction of a violent offense rendered him ineligible for parole. See Miss. Code Ann. § 47-7-3(g) (Rev. 2004). This Court affirmed Jones's conviction and sentence on appeal, and in Jones v. State, 122 So.3d 725 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) ("Jones II"), this Court affirmed the denial of Jones's motion for post-conviction relief.

         ¶4. After this Court's decision in Jones II, the United States Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that "the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." Miller, 567 U.S. at 479. The Court held that the sentencer must have the "discretion" to "consider mitigating circumstances" before a sentence of life without parole may be imposed in such a case. Id. at 489. And in Parker v. State, 119 So.3d 987 (Miss. 2013), the Mississippi Supreme Court held that Miller applies to the sentencing and parole statutes applicable to deliberate-design murder in this State. See id. at 996-97 (¶¶21-23). Therefore, a juvenile offender previously convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment is entitled to a hearing to determine whether he should be deemed eligible for parole based on the mitigating factors discussed in Miller and Parker. See id. at 998-99 (¶¶26-28). Accordingly, in Jones v. State, 122 So.3d 698 (Miss. 2013) ("Jones III"), the Mississippi Supreme Court granted Jones post-conviction relief on this issue and remanded the case "for a new sentencing hearing to be conducted consistently with . . . Parker [and Miller]."

         ¶5. On remand, the circuit judge appointed counsel for Jones and authorized him to retain an investigator and an expert. The court then held a new sentencing hearing to permit Jones to introduce any evidence that he was entitled to parole eligibility under Miller and Parker. Jones testified at the hearing and called five additional witnesses: his mother (Enette), his grandmother (Madge), his younger brother (Marty), an aunt, and Jerome Benton, who worked at Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility and knew Jones for approximately five years while Jones was incarcerated at that facility. The testimony that Jones presented focused largely on his abusive stepfather (Dan)[1] and his mother's mental health issues.

         ¶6. Jones, Marty, and Enette all testified that Dan was physically and verbally abusive. Jones testified that the abuse started getting bad when he was about ten or eleven years old. Marty testified that Dan "would get in your face and poke at your chest, poke you in the face, grab you by the arms, grab you by the neck, sling you around and have you sit down, things like that." Sometimes Dan's abuse would leave marks or bruises. Jones and Enette also testified that Dan usually referred to Jones and Marty as "little motherfuckers" or "little assholes" rather than by their names.

         ¶7. Dan did not hit his stepsons with a closed fist, and Marty testified that there were no "beatings, per se" or any injuries that required medical attention. However, Jones testified that if he talked back, Dan might "reach out and grab [him] by the throat or slam [him] up against the wall by [his] neck or . . . by the front of [his] shirt."

         ¶8. A fight between Jones and Dan in the summer of 2004 precipitated Jones's move back to Mississippi to live with his grandparents.[2] Dan, Enette, Jones, and Marty were living in Florida at the time. Jones testified that he came home late one night, and Dan grabbed him by the throat. Jones then swung at Dan and hit him in the ear. Dan's ear split open and began to bleed, and when the police came, they arrested Jones for domestic violence. As a result, Jones was required to take an anger management course. Jones then moved back to Lee County to live with his grandparents. Jones murdered his grandfather about two months later. There was no evidence that either of Jones's grandparents ever abused or mistreated him.

         ¶9. Jones, Marty, and Enette also testified that Enette abused alcohol and had mental health issues during Jones's childhood. Enette testified that she had suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, manic depressive disorder, and a self-injury disorder. Madge testified that Enette would leave Jones and Marty alone and unattended when they were young. The family also moved frequently when Jones was young so that he had to change schools frequently.

         ¶10. Jones testified that he had taken medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and "some kind of psychosis." He also testified that he had issues with cutting himself. However, Jones did not introduce any medical records or offer the testimony of any mental health professional to corroborate his claimed mental health issues. Enette and Madge both ...

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